Eating a nutrient-dense diet can help someone recover from COVID-19 by supporting their immune system and managing inflammation. This may be particularly important if they lose their sense of taste or smell and have the temptation to eat stronger tasting, less nutritious foods.

People can support their bodies in recovery at home by eating a nutritious diet. This article looks at what experts advise to eat when individuals have COVID-19.

This article also details the symptoms of COVID-19, how the loss of taste and smell affects diet, what to do if vomiting occurs, and some frequently asked questions.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

A person eating a bowl of soup while ill with Covid-19.Share on Pinterest
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Eating a nutritious diet is an essential consideration in recovering from COVID-19. Research suggests that insufficient nutrition is a risk factor for severe COVID-19, and key nutrients can help support the immune system and manage inflammation.

The following foods and nutrients may help a person recover from the disease.

Plant-based foods

According to a 2022 review, experts associate a diet involving healthy, plant-based foods with a lower risk and severity of COVID-19. In addition, the study found that a healthy, plant-based diet may particularly benefit people with higher socioeconomic deprivation.

A diet high in saturated fat increases angiotensin-converting enzyme, the main entry point for coronavirus into cells. Research suggests that diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, which are low in saturated fat and high in nutrients from plant foods, can provide more antioxidants for the body. Antioxidants may help fight viruses and support the immune system.

Therefore, eating the following foods can provide fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals, which are helpful compounds that plants produce.

Learn more about the Mediterranean diet.

Fiber and protein

According to a 2020 review, high quality proteins, such as fish, eggs, and lean meat, are an essential part of an anti-inflammatory diet that helps produce antibodies and fight off infection.

Learn more about tips and tricks to eat more protein.

The review also notes that dietary fiber consumption correlates with lower mortality from infectious and respiratory diseases. Consuming fiber can also lead to more favorable gut bacteria, which lowers inflammation. People can consume beneficial fiber in:

  • whole grains such as brown rice, bread, pasta, buckwheat, rye, spelt, oats
  • fruits and vegetables
  • legumes, beans, and lentils

Learn more about high fiber foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may have beneficial effects on COVID-19. These include:

  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • stimulating the immune system
  • possible antiviral effects

Oily fish is a high source of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, plant-based foods, such as flaxseed, walnuts, and hemp, contain alpha-linolenic acid, which the body can convert to EPA and DHA. People can also take an omega-3 supplement from fish or algae.

Learn more about omega-3-rich foods.

Vitamin C

Some studies have found that vitamin C can shorten the duration of colds and may improve respiratory symptoms. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and regulates the immune system and gene expression.

Other research suggests that vitamin C may help improve inflammation markers in people with coronavirus, but people should not consider it as a treatment in supplement form.

However, people can include vitamin C-rich foods in their diet when they have COVID-19 to help support their immune system. These include:

  • vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, green peas, and spinach
  • fruit, such as oranges, grapefruit, kiwifruit, and strawberries
  • juices, such as orange juice, tomato juice, or green smoothies

Learn more about foods high in vitamin C.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays an important role in the body’s immune system. Scientists previously suggested that dietary sources of vitamin D were particularly important during the pandemic because many people had less exposure to the sun during the lockdown.

People get vitamin D from exposure to the sun and foods such as beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and fortified breakfast cereals.

Learn more about foods high in vitamin D and other sources.

Zinc

Some research suggests zinc may reduce viral replication and gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms of COVID-19. However, most research has focused on zinc supplements, so it is difficult to say whether eating zinc foods can help.

However, zinc is an essential mineral for immune function, and eating foods that contain the substance may support recovery from illness.

Foods containing zinc include:

  • meat and poultry such as beef, pork, and chicken
  • beans such as chickpeas and kidney beans
  • seafood such as oysters, crab, flounder, and sole
  • dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt
  • nuts and seeds
  • oatmeal

Learn more about foods high in zinc.

People who have symptoms of COVID-19 should follow their country-specific guidance about testing and isolation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that someone with COVID-19 may have the following symptoms:

Learn more about the symptoms of COVID-19.

A 2020 meta-analysis of research estimates that 48% of patients with COVID-19 globally experienced a loss of smell and around 41% experienced a loss of taste. In some people, these symptoms may persist as part of long COVID.

Learn more about how COVID causes loss of taste and smell.

People who experience a loss of smell or taste may go off foods they usually eat or prefer foods with more salt, sugar, or fat, as they may be able to taste these more. However, individuals need to ensure they eat plenty of fruit and vegetables for their vitamin and antioxidant benefits. Avoiding too many high sugar or high fat foods is also advisable, as these can be inflammatory.

Taste disorder experts advise eating fruits and vegetables individually rather than as combination dishes such as casseroles and one-pots. This is because combination dishes hide individual flavors and dilute the taste.

Additionally, people can try adding more robust flavors such as citrus, herbs, and spices.

Some people experience nausea or vomiting as symptoms of COVID-19. They may not feel like eating but should ensure they hydrate with fluids.

Individuals should consult a doctor if they have excessive vomiting or go off food for longer than expected.

Learn more about food poisoning versus COVID-19.

Here are some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and food.

How long can a person with COVID-19 spread the coronavirus?

According to the CDC, most people with mild to moderate COVID-19 can spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, no more than 10 days after symptom onset.

However, most individuals with more severe to critical illnesses are likely to be able to spread the virus no more than 20 days after their symptoms began.

Should a person sanitize food packaging?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that there is no evidence of food packaging having associations with the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

However, people can wipe down food packaging with an antibacterial wipe as an extra precaution.

Can a nutritious diet support the immune system during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Research suggests optimal nutrition and dietary nutrient intake can affect the immune system. So eating a nutritious, balanced diet can help people fight the virus.

When someone has COVID-19, they should aim to eat a nutritious, balanced diet that supports their immune system.

Nutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help the process of recovery. Similarly, a person should ensure adequate fiber and protein from nutritious sources.

If someone has lost their sense of taste or smell, they should avoid eating too many inflammatory foods such as sugar and fat. Instead, they may want to try eating individual fruits and vegetables rather than one-pot meals that disguise their flavor.